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Speech by Minister Timo Soini at the Center for Strategic and International Studies - Embassy of Finland, Washington - Consulate Generals of Finland, New York, Los Angeles : Current Affairs


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Embassy of Finland, Washington

Speech by Minister Timo Soini at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Speech by Minister Timo Soini on Finnish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council at the CSIS Arctic Event, Washington, 7 February 2018.

Photo: Petri Hakkarainen / Embassy of Finland
Soini / CSIS

I wish to thank you for the opportunity to address Arctic issues here at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Finland has a long-standing relationship with the CSIS, and it is a real pleasure and honor to speak here for the second time about the Arctic.

This time, Finland has a special role, since we are chairing the Arctic Council from 2017 to 2019. The U.S period at the helm of the Council was very productive, and Finland is happy to continue many of the initiatives and programs started by the United States.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Each Arctic state is responsible for the Chairmanship of the Council for two years in a fixed order. Finland was the chair in 2000-2002, and now we are chairing it for the second time.  I will attempt to make a comparison between these periods.

This time the task is quite different from our previous Chairmanship 16 years ago. There are many positive developments. The Arctic Council has greatly expanded its activities. It has secured a strong position in producing scientific reports and assessments and making recommendations to decision-makers. It has negotiated three international agreements, on search and rescue, on the prevention of oil spills and most recently on scientific cooperation.

The Arctic Council has created a wide network of experts in scientific, environmental, maritime, social and economic issues in the Arctic countries, which extends beyond the Arctic region. The Council has invited a large number of observers, both states and organizations, which participate in many of its activities.

Now there are new organizations specialized in certain areas of cooperation such as the Arctic Economic Council, the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, with which the Arctic Council closely cooperates.

But there are also challenges which are more pronounced now than they were at the beginning of the millennium. One is the generally negative trend in international relations. The international situation has been tense for some years. The post-cold war international order is being openly questioned, and also some of the fundaments of the post-Second World War order may be on shaky grounds.

There was a moment about four years ago, after the illegal annexation of Crimea and the conflict breaking in Eastern Ukraine, when the normal continuation of Arctic cooperation was also in doubt. Still, all Arctic countries concluded that they have so many common interests that they must pursue them together. The United States as the chair of the Arctic Council had an important role in keeping Arctic cooperation on course. We could say that the cool heads prevailed.

Finland´s experience of the first half year of our Chairmanship is that all member states want to continue constructive cooperation.  In the troubled waters of interstate relations, it seems that this is the boat that the Arctic states don´t want to rock. As the chair, Finland will do its utmost to keep it that way.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is obvious that all Arctic states take into consideration that they have formidable common concerns to address. The most important of them is climate change, which will have a fundamental impact on the Arctic, its nature and its inhabitants.

The melting of the ice in the Arctic Ocean may open up new transport routes and make Arctic resources more accessible, but the responsible use of these new opportunities is in everybody´s interest.

It would be safe to develop common rules in time for economic activities in the Arctic, and apply the precautionary principle when in doubt.

When preparing for the Arctic Council chairmanship, Finland made an effort to address these concerns. We consulted the other Arctic states and the Permanent Participants representing indigenous peoples in the Arctic.  All agreed that Arctic cooperation should concentrate on goals that will make a difference also in a longer perspective.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To underline the need of a joint effort Finland chose the motto "Exploring Common Solutions" for our chairmanship program.

We identified two frameworks that should be taken into account in all Arctic Council activities. They are climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations in 2015.

We proposed four priority areas of Arctic cooperation that deserve particular attention. They are environmental protection, connectivity, meteorological cooperation and education.

Activities on to these priority areas are well underway in the Arctic Council and its working groups. I would like to highlight some of the goals that we are pursuing.

On environmental protection, we want to curb the emissions of black carbon by fulfilling the emission targets set by the Arctic countries last year, by encouraging also observer states to participate, by encouraging the modernization of outdated energy production facilities, and by looking at ways to reduce the emissions caused by maritime transport.

Biodiversity also in the Arctic is seriously threatened. We will convene an Arctic Biodiversity Congress to address this issue. We will also invite the Environment Ministers of the Arctic countries to look for solutions to biodiversity and pollution prevention later this year.

We all agree that the development of the Arctic will go hand in hand with improved connectivity. Connectivity is an area where innovations are made at the speed of light. Some years ago we used to think that Arctic cooperation is complicated, but it is not rocket science. Now we are not so sure any more. The first-ever small radar satellite made in Finland was launched just a few weeks ago. Space technology in general will soon have a major role in providing connectivity in remote Arctic places.

Finland will pursue the work started by the United States on telecommunications, and work closely with the Arctic Economic Council to ensure the full involvement of the private sector. Providing digital services is essential for the well-being of people and for creating commercially viable enterprises.

As Arctic waters and land areas become more accessible, there will be a growing need for meteorological research, observation and reliable weather services. Also maritime transport will depend on uninterrupted meteorological information. In March 2018, the Arctic Council will discuss how meteorological knowledge could be best utilized in its work. Joining forces with us, the World Meteorological Organization will organize an Arctic Meteorological week in the same place at the same in Finnish Lapland. Here I see a chance of a real breakthrough in cooperation which is not only useful but absolutely necessary.

Good basic education is the key to learning trades, entering higher education and having a chance in the job market. With the University of the Arctic (UArctic) network of teachers and educators, we want to improve the possibilities of all Arctic children to receive a good education. They don´t necessarily need to go to school, to a physical school building, because we have digital ways of providing learning materials even for nomadic children.

We have already started some interesting projects, and the UArctic will convene a Congress in Finland later this year to address these issues, which are sustainable development at its best.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I will briefly mention two events which will take place in the coming weeks.

This February, Finland will organize a conference in Helsinki to support the harmonized implementation of the Polar Code, placing stricter requirements for vessels navigating in Arctic and Antarctic waters. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) will participate.

In March, we will organize an exercise in ice conditions in the Gulf of Bothnia, located between Finland and Sweden, to support the implementation of the oil spill agreement. I am pleased that the Arctic Coast Guard Forum will meet in the same place.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to mention two recent achievements outside of the framework of the Arctic Council.

The negotiations on an agreement to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean were successfully concluded two months ago. Fishing will not be allowed before sufficient scientific evidence exists to support the sustainable exploitation of fish stocks. This is an important step in the stewardship of the Arctic Ocean. The United States initiated the negotiations and set an example to follow.

Another significant development concerns the Bering Strait, which is a gateway between East Asia, North America and the Arctic. The United States and the Russian Federation recently made a joint proposal to the IMO on the establishment of two-way routes and precautionary areas in the Bering Sea and Bering Strait. On safety of navigation, I wish to note that in the Gulf of Finland, we have a mandatory ship reporting system with the Russian Federation and Estonia since 2004. GOFREP is a well-functioning system and many accidents have been prevented.

I am happy to say recent achievements confirm also Finland´s experience that all Arctic countries are keen to increase their cooperation in the Arctic Council or other frameworks.

This brings me to a more general observation. Finland is a firm believer in a rules-based international order. The Arctic Council is a prime example of an intergovernmental forum where we all can achieve good outcomes and strengthen cooperation. And what is more, indigenous peoples’ organisations participate in all meetings and activities as permanent participants.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

Finland takes Arctic issues seriously also outside the work of the Arctic Council. One proof of that is icebreaking in which the Finns are global leaders. Finland is the only nation that offers products and services for the entire icebreaking value chain.

All our ports can freeze in winter. Therefore, we have always needed to build icebreakers – actually Finnish winter navigation turned already 140 years last year. We have developed the latest technology. Our high-quality and modern innovations are used worldwide. For example, the first environmentally friendly LNG-powered heavy polar icebreaker Polaris was built in Finland. It took only less than two years to build the vessel and it cost USD 150 million.

We can thus share our expertise and offer possibilities also to the U.S. how to build top-quality polar icebreakers cost-efficiently and with significant time-savings. In the meantime to avoiding icebreaking capacity gap, Finland can also offer some icebreakers for rent. We believe in international cooperation also in this regard, because cooperation is always beneficial to all parties.

Finland is very grateful for the longstanding and valuable marine cooperation with the U.S. which goes all the way back until 1930s. Finland has relied on the American maritime know-how and utilized it to develop our own expertise. And as you know, now we are more than ready to deepen our cooperation even further.

Also more generally speaking, bilateral relations of Finland and the U.S. are excellent. Further deepening our relations with the United States is a government priority for Finland and also my priority as Foreign Minister. Arctic issues and notably the reduction of black carbon emissions have been discussed at the highest level, between president Trump and president Niinistö in August. President Niinistö has raised this topic also with president Putin.

Finally, let me conclude by stressing how important the transatlantic relationship  is for us. The axis between the United States and Europe is as vital as ever, and we must do everything in our power to keep it turning.

Source: Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

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Updated 2/21/2018

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